Join SI.com’s Peter King in his Training Camp Blog. Get a unique behind-the-scenes look at life in the NFL as King visits 22 training camps in 30 days.
8/16/2006 11:12:00 AM
Spokane is special
Tuesday, Aug. 15
5:30 p.m. Spokane, Wash.
I now realize what makes this place so unique. The people here are different. They're slim and they read. I'm looking around this airport and I don't see the obesity in almost every airport and on most airplanes. And people here are reading books, not just the stuff about what Brad Pitt had for lunch.
You know what's so cute about this place? Wives meet husbands at the airport. Kids run up to dads at baggage claim, happy to see them after their trip to the big city.
Interesting place, Spokane. We need more Spokanes.
Changing planes on the way to Spokane, Wash. to see the Seahawks on Tuesday. The
USAirways pilot says it's 102 here. Who would know? It's got to be 63
in the terminal. Ridiculously over-air conditioned.
On my fourth pass on the $2 slot machine in the lobby, I hit 7-7-7.
And I stop. I always fail miserably at anything related to gambling, so
I'm glad to walk away with $52. Lattes for everyone, Mr. Barista!
I text Matt Hasselbeck to tell him I need some time Tuesday. "It takes
about three days to get to Spokane," I write. "No wonder nobody ever
covers you guys."
I'm standing on the sidelines of Steelers practice at St. Vincent
College, the small Benedictine school that has served as the team's
summer home for 40 years. Art Rooney is telling me about last Wednesday
night, when 24,000 people came to campus to watch the Steelers' evening
practice. "It was incredible," Rooney said, motioning to the hillsides
surrounding the practice fields. "Everywhere you can see right now was
filled with people, the most we've had here, ever." So many, in fact,
that the campus ran out of parking, and people, in Field of Dreams
style, parked way out on state route 30, more than a mile away, and
There are Terrible Towel cookies for sale here ... $2 apiece. There are
people in lawnchairs and blankets 400 yards from practice, soaking it
There is no place like this school to see training camp. And there is
no football nation like Steeler Nation. It's not even a contest.
"I was so happy we were able to win a Super Bowl for this new
generation of fans," Rooney said. "Now they all know what it's like."
Monday, Aug. 14
9:45 a.m. Pittsburgh International Airport
The woman at the Hertz Rental car counter has my license and credit card and is looking
for my reservation. Highly disinterested. I look over the counter.
She's got one of those calendars on her desktop with the first 13 days
of the month crossed out in bold black marker. And I think: I am so
glad I don't have a job where I cross out the days, day by day, in bold
black marker, looking forward to nothing.
What life-affirming gems you find on this blog. Boy, are you lucky.
Flashbacks. Many of them, as I stand on the 30-yard-line at Paul Brown
Stadium, in my gray Hickey-Freeman suit and dark striped tie, ready for
my 65-second halftime spot for NBC at the Washington-Cincinnati game.
No nerves, just a weird sense of déjà vu in the town where I began as a reporter.
I think about standing on the sidelines of
Bengals training camp 22 years earlier for hours with Paul
Brown, listening to him tell me what he looked for in a football
player. I think about how Paul Brown wrote my dying father a letter in
1985, telling him he should be proud of his son. I think about the
nights working the desk at the Cincinnati Enquirer, writing headlines
and learning to work the rim. Nights that ended with four-ways and
cheese coneys at the Skyline Chili parlor in Clifton.
I think about
how, as a Bengal beat man in 1984, living in a ground-floor dorm room
at Wilmington College during training camp, a rookie named Boomer
Esiason and smart-as-a-whip wideout named Cris Collinsworth used to
come into the room to use my phone to make long-distance phone calls.
And I think it's pretty cool that my first NBC spot is right here on
the Ohio River where I got such valuable lessons.
Sometimes it doesn't take me very long to see why a team that is down is down.
Between 2002 and 2005 the Lions had a top-10 pick in the first round of the draft each year. All were offensive players -- QB Joey Harrington, WRs Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams. At the start of the Lions' seven-on-seven practice this afternoon, here were the offensive skill players: Jon Kitna at quarterback, Marcus Pollard and Casey FitzSimmons at tight end and wide receivers Roy Williams and Corey Bradford.
Harrington was in Miami 900 miles away. Rogers and Mike Williams, helmet under their arms, were standing with the backups.
Corey Bradford? The guy who couldn't find a home in Houston?
I am particularly high on this team, because I like Rod Marinelli, Mike Martz and Kitna as 2006 imports. But in order to win in double digits, this team is going to have to overcome some horrendous recent draft production.
The topic of the evening Fawcett Stadium press box at the Hall of Fame game tonight is the ridiculously long afternoon of speeches, TV timeouts, videos and endless stammering, hemming and hawing that was Saturday afternoon's four-hour-plus induction ceremony. I saw most of the festivities on the NFL Network late the previous night and kept saying to the enshrinees: will you please edit yourselves.
My three suggestions for making this a compelling two-hour event instead of a four-hour snoozer:
1. The Hall needs to enforce time limits on enshrinees. I say if you can't thank everyone you need to thank and give the football world a proper message in 12 minutes, well, you're doing a terrible job.
2. Cut down on the introductions. There's a Chris Berman introduction, a video introduction and then an introduction by a presenter close to the enshrinee. Too much. Pick one or two, max.
3. Cut out the TV timeouts. If ESPN wants to televise the event, that's great. There's no reason why it all has to be done live. Let the event happen for people sweltering in 88-degree temperatures without artificial TV pauses. Who would know if Harry Carson's speech was taped seven minutes ago.
The biggest injustice Saturday was that Troy Aikman had to go last, and by that time scores of people had left the enshrinement. Sad.
Finally, a kindred spirit. A Red Sox fan. A big one.
"My wife can't figure out why I still follow them so much," said Bills coach Dick Jauron, standing near the team's St. John Fisher College practice field in this Rochester suburb.
For emphasis today, three close friends and a former coach from Swampscott, Mass., are in camp visiting Jauron and believe me, they care a lot more about whether DavidWells' knee will hold up then whether J.P. Losman can beat out Kelly Holcomb to be Jauron's quarterback.
I told him I was afflicted with the same disease. I shared with him how one week earlier the Red Sox and Angels were in extra innings and I was on the sidelines of a Saints practice in Jackson, Miss., following David Ortiz's 11th-inning at-bat pitch by pitch on this sick little telephone/PDA I have.
"I'll tell you what I did," said Jauron. "When the Red Sox were in Toronto, I drove up to the game with one of my coaches. I walked up to the ticket window and said 'best available,' and we sat there and watched the game. They lost but that was great."
Memo to my Sports Illustrated bosses: there was a couple of minutes of football discussion out of 45 spent with Jauron. Honest.
Friday, Aug. 4
3:05 p.m. Driving too fast on I-70 in Greencastle, Ind.
This is the most interesting, the most draining or the dumbest day of my trip. Maybe all three.
I got up at 4:45 a.m. in a greater Cincinnati airport hotel, then drove 203 miles to watch the Colts this morning at Rose-Hulmann Institute in Terre Haute, Ind., did some interviews, ate lunch and was back in the car at 1:15 p.m. Now, I'm trying to beat time and make it 264 miles southeast to Georgetown, Ky., for the Bengals' intrasquad scrimmage, where Carson Palmer is going to run around and throw for the first time in semi-live conditions since his knee surgery.
It's a beautiful day in the hinterlands. Not a cloud in the sky, about 85 degrees. Just to my right, I'm passing a farm truck separated into four compartments. Watermelon in the rear, then cantaloupe, then tomatoes, then several hundred ears of corn. Those tomatoes looked good.
One note from Colts camp: Tony Dungy is doing fine. I just spent 15-20 minutes with him and I still marvel at his courage and stick-to-itiveness for barging ahead in life so firmly eight months after the death of his son James.
While waiting out a thunderstorm at the Houston Intercontinental Airport some random Hall of Fame thoughts:
Earlier this morning I was standing on the sidelines at the Houston Texans practice with P.R. man Tony Wyllie. He was peppering me with questions about who should and shouldn't be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's amazing how many times during the course of a year that, apropos of nothing, I'll have a 45-minute conversation with somebody about the Hall of Fame. Wyllie must have ripped off 50 names to me, asking if this guy or that guy belonged. He was amazed at how many guys I said no to.
"Terrell Davis," he said at one point.
"No way," I said. "Didn't play long enough."
I won't bore you with the different names and my opinion on them. But with only one probable Hall of Famer who is new on this year's ballot -- offensive lineman Bruce Matthews -- it's a good year to correct a lot of the injustices of the last few years. It's time for Michael Irvin to get in; he was an irreplaceable part of a three-time Super Bowl champion. Thurman Thomas should be in because he and Jim Kelly took an offense of above-average talent to four straight AFC titles. Those are the only two locks in my ballot box next February when we vote in Miami, but I would like to see Andre Tippett -- who had 100 sacks while fending off tight ends on the strong side on a bad New England defense -- get a fair hearing.
As for all you Art Monk fans out there? Here's a little tidbit for you. I'm going to reconsider my stance on Monk. The Washington Post's Len Shapiro, who I respect a lot, made a great point to me after last year's vote. I was strongly pro-Harry Carson because I thought one of the five best run-stoppers in history should have his place in Canton. And obviously there are no stats for run-stoppers. Shapiro said to me that Monk did for the Redskins what Carson did for the Giants -- as a leader, a player and a totally unselfish piece to Washington's championship puzzle. So as I go through this season, I'm asking questions of people I respect who either played against or coached against Monk. If I'm wrong in my stance against him, I'll admit it.